October 1, 2013 – If you missed it this last week the commercial space race is now officially “on.” The Cygnus, a capsule similar to the Dragon of SpaceX, but manufactured and launched by Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC), achieved rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station (ISS), not without some hiccups. It seems there was a software glitch that delayed the rendezvous. A software patch was uploaded and the mission proceeded.
Cygnus was launched on the Antares, OSC’s proprietary rocket system. Unlike the SpaceX Dragon capsule, which is recoverable like the old Apollo capsule using parachutes and landing on water, Cygnus gets destroyed after it leaves the ISS, burning up in the upper atmosphere.
Cygnus can deliver up to 2.7 tons of supplies to the ISS although on this flight it was about half full. Dragon’s planned payload can exceed 6 tons.
So now there are two private companies offering commercial launch capability to low-Earth orbit. Soon others will join and a new space race will commence that is not a product of political ideologies in competition. All of us here on Earth may be beneficiaries.